Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Chris Lazarini discussed a case where defendant carried out a personal vendetta against the plaintiff following plaintiff's report against defendant for violations of securities laws. Following investigation and dismissal of defendant after plaintiff's report, defendant made defamatory statements to plaintiff's new employers that plaintiff allege caused his terminations from those employers. The court ruled the defamatory statements constituted libel per se and the plaintiff may recover damages.
Chris provided the analysis for Securities Litigation Commentator (SLC). The full text of the analysis is below and used with permission from the publication. If you would like to receive additional content from the SLC, please visit the SLC website to sign up for the newsletter.
Shah vs. Levy, No. 13 Civ. 2975 (S.D. N.Y., 10/31/16)
*A temporal relation between a defendant's defamatory communications to the plaintiff's employer and the termination of the plaintiff creates a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the former caused the latter.
**Defamatory statements that charge a person with committing a crime or cause injury to his profession or business constitute libel per se, for which the party libeled may recover for damage to his reputation, humiliation and mental anguish.
This case involves a bizarre story of Defendant's personal vendetta against Plaintiff in which he promised to "'follow [Plaintiff] to the ends of this earth to make your life as miserable as you made mine and everyone else's.'"
Between 2007 and 2009, while the parties worked as research analysts at the same brokerage firm, Plaintiff reported to the FBI, SEC, FINRA and his supervisors that Defendant was violating the securities laws. While not disclosed in the Court opinion, it appears that Defendant was commenting about financial matters on one or more financial websites/blogs under various aliases during business hours. Defendant purportedly lied to his firm and the firm's outside counsel about his activities during their and FINRA's investigation into Plaintiff's claims. After finally admitting his actions, Defendant was "permitted to resign" in 2009. In 2011, Defendant accepted, in settlement with FINRA, a $5,000 fine and six month suspension. Defendant's BrokerCheck report reflects that he has not been registered with any firm since 2009.
In the instant case, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant carried out his vendetta by sending disparaging emails about him to two employers. Some emails were sent under alleged aliases, and claimed that the sender had reported Plaintiff's actions to FINRA. Plaintiff claimed that both employers terminated him because of Defendant's disparaging emails, and sought damages under theories of tortious interference with contractual relations and defamation. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that no reasonable jury could find that his emails caused Plaintiff's terminations. The Court denies the motion on the tortious interference claim, finding the temporal relation between Defendant's emails and the employers' actions sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation. The Court similarly denies the motion on the defamation claim, characterizing Defendant's emails as libel per se, for which damages to one's reputation and for personal humiliation and mental anguish are presumed. The Court leaves proof of the damages for trial.
One is tempted to say that the key lesson of this case is: "No good deed goes unpunished."